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Please (at least try to) find out the facts before issuing an opinion

It was extraordinarily disappointing to me to read Peter Crowley’s editorial about a bill aiming to raise the New York state excise tax on beer over 115%. From the title of “Have a brew, support higher education” being glib, careless and misleading, Mr. Crowley is portraying my industry as cute and hobby-like, and not as important as other manufacturing and agricultural industries in the state. He completely ignores the impact that a(nother) cost increase in operating a business in New York state would have on the brewery owners and employees themselves.

Aside from the reasons I will outline below, it is most disturbing that Mr. Crowley put forth these opinions without speaking to anyone in the local brewery world or the state brewery world. I operate two breweries in Lake Placid, including the longest-standing brewery in Mr. Crowley’s region, so wouldn’t one think that, prior to writing this unfounded opinion, he may have reached out to me or any of the other brewers in the immediate region? There are 22 brewers in the area, yet none of them were quoted, so I am confident that none were contacted.

I also happen to be the president of the New York State Brewers Association, a position that I was elected to last year. As president, I represent the almost 500 craft brewers currently operating in New York state. I live and work right in Lake Placid, maybe 8 miles from Mr. Crowley. My number is listed, and I am easily reached in many ways. But no call or email was received.

I know he did not contact Paul Leone, the executive director of the NYSBA, either. It seems like Mr. Crowley’s opinions were just off the cuff, and uninformed opinions printed in newspapers are ill advised and create concern over other topics and reporting. This editorial was certainly insulting to my industry.

In any event, here is what I would have told Mr. Crowley had he cared to ask someone who has been in the industry for over two decades and from his area:

¯ As of 2018, the breweries in New York contribute over $5.4 billion to the economy of New York state. It is more now in 2020. We employ over 20,000 people, generate over $320 million in tourism revenue and pay $545 million in taxes.

¯ Beer remains the drink of the people. Mr. Crowley asserts that the 115% tax increase “would also bring it in line with New York’s tax on wine, which is already 30 cents per gallon.” Wine is typically priced at $9 to $12 per 8-ounce pour. Do you want your beer to cost this much? Wine and beer are different industries.

¯ The states he lists for comparison are some of the worst states for craft beer in the entire country. Tennessee ranks 29th, Alaska is 27th, and Alabama is 39th in beer production. New York ranks sixth. Should we emulate those other states or continue to support New York beer?

¯ In the last few years, governmental regulations have increased the cost of doing business in New York, from minimum wage increases to increased insurance costs to name just two. I employ 140 people during the peak seasons. I cannot continue these employment numbers as costs rise and revenues remain flat. Tax increases WILL result in lost jobs.

¯ Mr. Crowley states: “(Assemblyman) Epstein estimates the tax would generate almost twice as much revenue for state colleges, from $51 million to $96 million.” Were these numbers checked? If you more than double something, that number should be over $102 million, right? And the tax rate is currently 14 cents a gallon, not 15 cents, as stated.

¯ I know the state is facing a $6 billion budget deficit. A large tax increase on a small but growing New York state industry nets $45 million, according to the numbers shown, representing a mere .0075 of the shortfall. This number is inconsequential in the large picture of the state’s issue.

¯ Why take a growing industry and double the tax to pay for something completely unrelated to the beer industry?

¯ Yes, the governor has helped our industry by removing antiquated laws and installing common-sense practices to the state Liquor Authority, but 99% of the actual investment in the industry has come from individuals betting all they have on their business plan and on elbow grease, not from governmental handouts.

¯ My favorite quote is, “to us it seems like a fair and minor sacrifice for something very important.” What is this statement based on if Mr. Crowley did not speak to anyone in the industry? Yes, education is important, but should small breweries be responsible for that burden? I am glad YOU assert that doubling MY business taxes is something that is fair and that YOU are willing to sacrifice!

¯ Another great quote: “we’re willing to accept matching the beer tax with the wine tax.” Oh, YOU are willing, are you? Wait until local Adirondackers lose their jobs and your beer costs $10 a pint because an assemblyman from Manhattan has a pet project and a hair-brained idea. Still willing?

Here is a statement from the executive director on the New York Brewers Association, Paul Leone, a person Mr. Crowley did not seek out: “We think it’s misguided. The New York state craft brewing industry has contributed $5.4 billion and 20,000 jobs to the state’s economy thanks to tax breaks. Increasing the tax burden on the industry would not only slow its continued growth but could cost jobs. Breweries continually invest and reinvest cost savings into their growing businesses and communities, and to punish that growth and investment with increased taxes is irresponsible legislatively.”

I agree with Mr. Leone, and the NYSBA is confident that this bill will be defeated in Albany. It does not even have a sponsor in the Senate at this time, and most people see it for the ill-advised, ineffective scheme that it is.

Most importantly, I hope that Mr. Crowley seeks out information on both sides of any issue prior to issuing future opinions on any New York industry. Today it was beer, but tomorrow it may be where you make your living.

Christopher Ericson lives in Lake Placid and is the owner of Lake Placid Pub & Brewery and Big Slide Brewery & Public House, as well as president of the New York State Brewers Association.

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